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Youth Ministry is Advent

by Andrew Root

Jürgen Moltmann notes in “The Coming of God,” that European languages generally have two ways of talking about what lies ahead: “Futurum means what will be; adventus means what is coming.”

Adolescence today is captured in futurum — in the notion that the future is bound in the present, determined by what we do now.

If apathy sets in when our passion for the future is miscarried — and it does — then it is no wonder so many teenagers are apathetic. Young people today are often overwhelmed by everything they feel they must do to have a good and enjoyable future.

Many, especially in the middle class, have swallowed the false eschatology that says they must be busy now so they can be successful down the line. They must be busy with SAT prep so they can get a good job in the future, busy with basketball camp so they can make varsity in the future, busy going on summer short-term mission trips so they can put it on their college applications in the future.

The young people whom teachers, parents and pastors tend to like best are those who care about their future, those who plan and live for it. We like these young people because we often wear the same glasses of false eschatology. We affirm them for assimilating the false eschatology that says, “The future is yours.”

“If you just get your ducks in a row now and mitigate risk, your future can be a bright and successful one,” we tell them. “And if your individual future is successful and happy, you’ll be fulfilled.”

But any future orientation that is all about you, that sees the future in terms of your future, has a way of heightening concern about whether the happiness or success you achieve can last.

There is no rest in futurum. To be future-oriented is to stand in the now as you prepare through your own actions for your tomorrows. In future orientation, “waiting sucks,” because it delays (self-)fulfillment and gratification.

But there is a different kind of waiting, a deeper waiting that can’t be satisfied by our actions or achieved by our preparation. It’s the waiting of adventus, of Advent — the time when the church remembers that it waits, and waits in the darkness for the light of the world to come. It’s when we remember that our very being is as those who await the coming of our Lord. Though we sit in the present, we bend our necks toward God’s coming. We are the waiting people of Advent.

Too often, youth ministry functions outside a spirit of Advent and instead operates in a sense of futurum, a belief that the future depends on us and impinges on us, prompting us also to say, “Waiting sucks.”

Promise and hope do not bow to the false eschatology that says, “If we work hard, we can make something of ourselves.” True hope is found in the promise that God is bringing forth God’s advent — God’s own future.

Youth ministry may be more about waiting in anticipation of the fullness of God’s action (advent) than it is about possessing it. Faith is about hope in God’s coming. It is about bending your life toward God’s future. It is living for God’s end — of peace, love and mercy — before that end is here in its fullness.

Read more of this article “Just Wait” here, linked from the most recent Faith & Leadership Newsletter published by Duke University.

Andrew Root is the Olson Baalson Associate Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., and teaches classes on youth ministry, young adults, family, church and culture. Parts of this essay are adapted from the author’s forthcoming book “Unlocking Mission and Eschatology in Youth Ministry,” scheduled for release by Zondervan on Jan. 1, 2013.

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